Although many H-1B petitions are based on the beneficiary’s baccalaureate-level education and degree in a relating field, it is also possible to qualify through work experience or combination of work and education.
The USCIS regulations 8 CFR 214.2(h)(4)(iii)(C)(4) state that in the absence of a U.S. or foreign equivalent degree needed to qualify for an H-1B petition, the beneficiary may alternatively provide proof of specialized training and/or experience that is equivalent to a U.S. baccalaureate or higher degree in the specialty occupation. The beneficiary must also show recognition of expertise in the specialty field through positions directly related to the specialty field.
How to Prove Equivalence to a U.S. Bachelor’s Degree in the Specialty Field
You must establish evidence that your work experience or combination of work experience and education is equivalent to a U.S. bachelor’s degree in the related field. This is to prove that you have achieved an equal level of knowledge and competence from you work experience that can be compared to a U.S. bachelor’s degree in that field.
To show equivalency you must show at least one of the following:
- An evaluation from a college official at an accredited college or university who is authorized to grant credit for training and/or experience in the specialty;
- An evaluation of education by a credentials service who is specialized in evaluation foreign educational credentials (this is only for evaluating education);
- Evidence of college-level equivalency examinations or special credit programs; and/or
- A certification or registration from a nationally recognized professional organization for the occupational specialty known to granting registrations or certifications to individuals in the specialty.
The most common approach to proving equivalence is to obtain an evaluation from an authorized college or university official. Many colleges now have formal programs in place where professors grant college level credit after evaluating candidates related work experience.
To determine equivalency, evaluators have implemented the USCIS “three-to-one” rule. This rule sets that one year of college-level education can be substituted by three years of specialized work experience. So, if the beneficiary lacks two years of college-level education, they must provide evidence that they have 6 years of relevant work experience.
Verification of Work Experience
You must provide evidence to the evaluators and to the USCIS to verify work experience. This should be done by submitting letters from your former employers with reference as to whether your colleagues, supervisors or subordinates obtained degrees in the specialty occupation. Letters are crucial to showing evidence on how evaluators, such as college officials, came to their conclusion on their evaluation of equivalency.
Letters from employers not only provide evidence of your work experience but they also help to establish recognition of expertise.
Proving Recognition of Expertise in the Specialty Field
You will need to prove that you have obtained recognition of expertise in the specialty in addition to an official evaluation proving your equivalency. This means you need to show that you have acquired the necessary level of knowledge through relevant and progressively responsible work experience.
You must prove recognition of expertise by at least one of the five following:
- Recognition by two or more recognized authorities in the specialty occupation. A recognized authority is a person or organization with expertise or knowledge in the specialty field and who has the expertise to provide the opinion requested, CFR 214.2(h)(4)(ii);
- Membership in a recognized society or association in the specialty;
- Published material in trade journals, book, or professional publications, either about or by the beneficiary;
- A license or registration to practice the specialty occupation in a foreign country;
- Achievements that have been determined by a recognized authority as a significant contribution to the specialty field.
You can also prove expertise in the specialty occupation by providing two statements from recognized authority who know your work but have not worked with you directly. The most common method of proving recognition of expertise in the field is by submitting affidavits (sworn letters of support) from your former employers.
Example AAO Approval Decision on H-1B Petition Based on Beneficiary’s Work Experience
The beneficiary of the H-1B submitted had a three-year foreign education in Criminology and over three years of work experience in the field of Criminology. The beneficiary was previously granted H-1B status (in 2009) with his credentials being accepted as equivalent to a U.S. bachelor’s degree in Criminology. When the beneficiary filed his petition in 2012 he submitted the supporting evidence such as two evaluations of his credentials, transcript from the 3-year program, various certificates showing relevant training, and letters of support proving recognition in the field.
USCIS initially denied the case stating the evidence provided showing that the beneficiary qualifies to perform the duties of the job was insufficient. This decision focused on the evaluation performed by a foreign educational credentials evaluator. The USCIS states that foreign educational credentials evaluator can only evaluate the education to determine equivalency and not the work experience. USCIS also stated in the decision that there was a lack of evidence that the evaluators were qualified to grant equivalency evaluations in the field of Criminology since the evaluators held liberal arts and Education degrees.
This decision was appealed based on two fundamental points, that the evaluations were in fact credible and fit the desired requirements and that the USCIS had already made a previous determination in 2009 that the beneficiary’s education and work were equivalent to a U.S. degree and had granted him an H-1B visa.
The Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) Decision of September 4, 2013 overturned USCIS’ findings that the beneficiary was not qualified for the H-1B position.
Although the H-1B was eventually approved, it is important that H-1B petitions based on work experience are carefully executed and all evidence on work experience and evaluations are provided.